New Short Novels, 2

This is an interesting book on a couple of levels.

What is shown is the Ballantine hardcover first edition.  It was preceded by the Ballantine Books mass market paperback, a paperback original, meaning that the true first edition of the book was the paperback.  The hardcover followed it.  All of these Ballantine hardcovers are difficult books to find.  Ballantine hardcovers are a collectible category all by themselves, irrespective of the author or title.  Both versions of the book were published in 1956.

Front cover

Front cover

I’m not terribly familiar with the work of either John Phillips or Dachine Rainer.  He contributes The Engines of Hygeia while she offers A Room at the Inn.  The other two authors are major.  We all have heard of Norman Mailer, although I doubt everyone is familiar with his story The Man Who Studied Yoga.  Copy on the dust jacket flaps indicates that his is “a disturbing study of sex and the middle class that touches upon many of the themes of The Deer Park.”

Wallace Stegner is the other major author.  He provides Field Guide to the Western Birds.  Text on the dust jacket rear flap says “To a party of complacent, well-intentioned Hollywood couples comes a brilliant pianist  —  driven by the urge to self-destruction.”

I was lucky to have known Wally (I never called him that) for a dozen years before his death in 1993.  Every nine months or so I would call him and ask if I could bring some books by his house for him to sign.  He always agreed, so long as I came by in the afternoon.  He used mornings to write.  I had some fabulous encounters with both him and his wife, Mary, who was a noted editor.

Field Guide to Western Birds is a fun book for me because the main male character, Joe Allston, is the alter ego of Wallace Stegner.  In the book Allston is a retired literary agent who has become a bird watcher as a displacement activity to keep him from writing his long-promised memoirs.  His persona in mixed company is a much softer version than what he presents in his own mind, his true feelings, and Stegner/Allston, skewers those who need it.  He can prick pretenders, and does.  He used this same slightly curmudgeonly character in his 1967 novel, All the Little Live Things, a very under-rated book, and in his National Book Award winning novel, The Spectator Bird, published in 1976.  What is cool for me, having known Stegner, having been to his house, having lingered in his separate study/writing room, is that he describes this house and his study just the way it was.  I don’t have to be transported by the writer’s words, but I am, and I find it delightful.  Being a slightly curmudgeonly character myself, I commune with him and his thoughts about pretenders and posers.


1 Comment

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One response to “New Short Novels, 2

  1. pb and hardcover are simultaneous editions (pub: apr, 1956). i currently have four hardcover editions each with a different cloth binding. there is no priority on the bindings.

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